Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

BBC NI's high flyers: Fury over corporation's soaring travel expenses bill

Spending by BBC Northern Ireland on hotels, flights and taxis has soared in the past year - despite the corporation facing growing pressure to slash costs.

New figures show the Beeb shelled out more than £2,000 a day on air fares in the last 12 months, on top of a daily taxi bill of £1,300.

Meanwhile expenditure on hotels for presenters and guests has also jumped - rising by nearly a fifth on the previous year's outlay.

The BBC has defended the rise by stating that it is a natural consequence of the rise in network business in Northern Ireland.

The figures are contained in a report detailing BBC expenditure during the 2010/11 financial year, obtained by this newspaper.

It comes amid ongoing controversy over huge cost-cutting plans by the corporation, which could force some of Ulster's top names off the airwaves.

A breakdown of figures reveals that BBC NI spent £734,000 on flights to ferry staff and guests in and out of Northern Ireland during 2010/11 - up 11% on the previous year's total and working out at £2,011 every day on average.

A further £492,000 was shelled out on hotels for staff - a rise of 18% on 2009/10 expenditure.

Taxi costs averaged £1,300 a day, an overall spend of £254,000, up 11% on the previous year.

BBC NI also shelled out £84,000 on rail fares and another £84,000 on hire cars in the same period.

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said the figures contradicted pledges from BBC bosses to cut back on costs.

He said: "Obviously any large employer, particularly in the broadcasting business, would be expected to incur charges, but the fact that there has been such a significant increase at a time when everyone else is tightening their belts and trying to reduce budgets is a cause for concern," he said.

"It is particularly so for the BBC because they are recipients of the public purse as we all pay our licence fee, and secondly the hierarchy of the BBC have persistently told the licence fee paying public that value for money would be given and they would cut back on expenditure."

The TaxPayers' Alliance said the BBC must do more to ensure value for the licence fee payer.

Chief executive Matthew Elliot said: "It's truly shocking that the BBC is racking up the air miles at the expense of the licence fee."

A BBC NI spokesman said the corporation was committed to prioritising its spending on content and keeping travel expenditure to a minimum.

"An increase in BBC Northern Ireland's travel expenditure is a natural consequence of the rise in network business coming to and from our region and takes into account general business requirements that reflects our position as being part of an international broadcasting organisation.

"Programme makers and staff travel to the UK and abroad for operational necessity. Our geography makes travel more costly and there are other considerations including the inflationary costs of flights and London-based accommodation.

"Strict BBC expenses guidelines are in place to ensure business-related travel is managed to maximise value for money, including a basic cap on hotels."

BBC bosses face tough decisions to try to slash costs by around a fifth. It's reported that the flagship Newsnight programme could be axed, although this was denied. There has been speculation that Radio Ulster's evening output could be ditched in favour of a switchover to national Radio Two or Five Live. Last October it was announced that the licence fee would be frozen for six years.

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